Winnipeg company going all-out to build instant isolation rooms across North America

Winnipeg company Price Industries has shifts running into the weekends to provide special filtration systems for hospitals to create additional safe rooms for patients.

Price Industries working at full capacity during health emergency with key products

Morale is high at Price Industries as the company keeps its Winnipeg factory at full-tilt to provide air filtration systems during the COVID-19 crisis. (Submitted by Price Industries )

In an economic landscape of "closed" signs and empty parking lots, Winnipeg's Price Industries is working in overdrive — and what they are producing is likely saving lives.

The company is supplying a product that helps create a safe space for patients in places like hotel rooms , easing the pressure on health facilities across North America struggling to stay ahead of the COVID-19 health crisis.

The company's fan filter unit can be used to draw air out of virtually any room, taking airborne virus with it and expelling it safely through a filter, either directly outside or through the building's exhaust vent.

"You can basically wheel them into these patient rooms and within under 10 minutes you can convert that to a negative pressure isolation room," said David Surminski, the manager of critical environments for Price Industries.

That can help keep airborne virus out of nursing stations and other key parts of hospitals, or rapidly converted buildings or even hotel rooms.

Staff at Price Industries work on parts for a flow fan filter system that can turn a hotel room into an isolation room for sick patients. (Submitted by Price Industries )

"They're going in very rapidly. Within even a few days they're converting these hotels over to actual … health-care facilities for all of the COVID patients," Surminski told CBC News.

Customers from London, Ont., to the major COVID-19 hotspots in Louisiana, New York and New Jersey are buying the kit.

"It's definitely something to manage through. We've activated our supply chain as much as we can to keep pace with everything that's going on. We've also invested sort of ahead of the curve to make sure that we can meet production and demand in the market," Surminski said.

It's one of several reasons why the company's 3,500 employees across North America — and 1,400 in Winnipeg — are continuing to work in an economy deeply damaged by the pandemic.

Price Industries' David Surminski says hospitals across North America are converting entire floors or entire wards to deal with the high numbers of COVID-19 patients. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

But it's not their only product being used during the crisis.

Price Industries owns a company in Wisconsin manufacturing shields to protect drivers on transit buses and another in Calgary that makes aluminum support pieces for portable shelters that are popping up in U.S. cities to provide temporary hospital space.

The company is designated an essential service in several categories under Manitoba government's guidelines and is taking great pains to practise physical distancing and hygiene in its plant.

"We've put in lots of social distancing … keeping the six feet away. We have hand sanitizer stations throughout the entire facility. We're doing weekly disinfection across the whole facility as well," Surminski said.

Research facility open to innovate

The company has a 29,000-square-foot research facility in Winnipeg with multiple testing chambers and mockups for hospital operating room systems.

Price has extended an open invitation to both provincial and federal governments to use the facilities and access to its engineering team for any application they might find useful — either in meeting the challenges of the COVID-19 emergency or as part of the effort to recover from the economic fallout from the crises.

The company says it is practising every physical distance and cleaning regime it can to protect staff. (Submitted by Price Industries)

It's an offer the Business Council of Manitoba hopes the governments takes seriously.

Seventy of the 73 member companies of the council have been declared essential services by the province, but its president, Bram Strain, is distinctly worried about the economy after pandemic.

WATCH | Price Industries working at full capacity during health emergency:

Winnipeg company builds instant isolation rooms

4 years ago
Duration 2:28
Featured VideoIn an economic landscape of "closed" signs and empty parking lots, Winnipeg's Price Industries is working in overdrive — and what they are producing is likely saving lives.

"This is a wartime situation and companies like Price Industries are definitely leaders, but this is also time for [more] focus on the future," Strain said.

Strain says the province should be assembling an advisory — or recovery — board to look at the future and how Manitoba can focus on its key sectors.

"That needs to happen very fast," Strain told CBC News.

Price Industries has been manufacturing in Winnipeg since 1949. Since the health crisis started, it has offered the use of its research facility to federal and provincial governments. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

At Price Industries everything is happening very fast right now, but Surminski says the whole plant is showing up with purpose every shift.

"We're really proud of the factory teams that are showing up every day. They've also got a lot of stuff going on personally but they come to work with a really positive attitude," he said.

The company is also mindful of keeping up morale elsewhere.

Last week its sales staff brought lunches to hospital workers at the Health Sciences Centre.

"From what I understand [it was] really appreciated that they reached out and and did that … it's really great to hear stories like that," Surminski said.